Andrew Cuomo is ready to run for governor.
Cuomo spokesman Richard Bamberger declined comment, but a source close to Cuomo told The News, "He will make an announcement at the end of March. And what he will say is that he intends to run for governor. ... He thinks there are a lot of problems in the state and he thinks he can help solve them."
That source is not alone. On Wednesday, a day after Republican Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts, Stuart Applebaum of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union urged Cuomo to run, saying Paterson "is not the strongest candidate."
Upstate party chief Larry Bulman went further, saying, "Let's not run a third-string quarterback if there is a first-string quarterback in the game. We should be talking to Andrew Cuomo."
"I'm focused on being attorney general," said Cuomo.
Though he's played coy on his intentions, the 52-year-old Cuomo - the son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo - has been laying the groundwork for months. He's crisscrossed the state over the past year, meeting Democratic leaders from Buffalo to Brooklyn and attending fund-raisers - for himself and many others.
There was no clearer sign of Cuomo's strategy than at Paterson's recent State of the State Address, where Cuomo appeared buoyant, confident and self-assured as poll-challenged Paterson tried to sell his plans.
Baruch College public affairs professor Doug Muzzio said Cuomo "is playing it smart" by waiting to announce his intentions. Muzzio said that gives him two more months to garner favorable publicity as attorney general while ducking upcoming contentious budget talks, which must be concluded by April 1.
"Assuming he's going to run, why announce now?" Muzzio asked. "He becomes a target. This makes perfect political and strategic sense."
Insiders say Cuomo began seriously training his sights on the governor's chair after Spitzer resigned in March 2008 amid a hooker scandal.
As lieutenant governor, Paterson took over but, after the briefest of honeymoons, he stumbled badly and his ratings plunged. Paterson soon lost the confidence of many Democrats - including President Obama - and Cuomo emerged as the overwhelming choice.
In the latest polls, Cuomo has a 64% job approval rating compared with Paterson's 31%. Cuomo also has $16 million in his war chest, while the governor has just $3 million.